Whatever analysts think of this year's Christmas selling season, many investors were voting with their wallets Wednesday.

The S&P Retail Index was recently up 0.6% on Wednesday, while a handful of retailers posted big gains, including

Hot Topic

( HOTT), up 8.5%;

Claire's Stores

( CLE), up 4.6%;

May Department Stores

( MAY), up 2.2%; and

Federated

( FD), up 2.8%.

The strength occurred despite cautious words from Banc of America Securities analyst Dana Cohen.

"With only a few days left,

this Christmas is turning into a much more lackluster season than even we anticipated (and we were not too optimistic)," Cohen wrote in a research note to clients.

Based on the results, Cohen cut sales estimates on a list of apparel retailers, including

Ann Taylor

(ANN)

,

Gap Stores

(GPS) - Get Report

,

Kohl's

(KSS) - Get Report

,

Limited

(LTD)

, May Department Stores,

Saks

(SKS)

and

TJX Companies

(TJX) - Get Report

.

On a positive note, she said

American Eagle Outfitters

( AEOS),

Abercrombie & Fitch

(ANF) - Get Report

,

Bebe Stores

(BEBE)

and

Chico's

(CHS) - Get Report

looked poised to weather the storm.

Elsewhere, Merrill Lynch analyst Daniel Barry said, "a year-end rally in retail stocks is fairly common, and a rally should occur this year supported by the strong finish to the Christmas season," in a research note.

Last year, the S&P Retail Index gained 5% in the second half of December, but it dropped 4% in the same period the year before. This year, the index has dipped 0.8% since its close on Dec. 15.

Among large discounters,

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

was recently adding 1%, while

Target

(TGT) - Get Report

was up 0.6%.

Holiday sales reports have been on the weak side. ShopperTrak of Chicago estimated that retail sales on the last Saturday before Christmas totaled $6.7 billion, down 7% from the same Saturday last year. Saturday and Sunday sales combined were down 3.3%, and the previous two weeks showed sales down 5.9% and 1.2%, respectively. Before that, the International Council of Shopping Centers lowered its estimates for the holiday season results of its chain-store sales survey to a gain of 2.5% to 3% from the previous 3% to 4% range after widespread sales disappointments were logged in November.

A variety of arguments for an eventual pick-up have been put forward in the retail community recently. Consumers were said to be procrastinating in hopes of higher markdowns as Christmas approached, and companies have responded with aggressive promotional discounts.

Also, online sales, which are unaccounted for in same-store sales results and many popular sales measures, are strong. Also, thanks to an increase in gift-card purchases, retailers have said a sizeable chunk of holiday sales will spread out beyond Christmas and into January.

Cohen remained unconvinced.

"We recognize that there are some very big days left, both pre- and post-Christmas," she said. "However, time is clearly running out."